Background to the Development

In June 2013, Cheshire East Council granted planning permission to developers Wilson Bowden for a large scale redevelopment of  Macclesfield town centre.  The redevelopment is a partnership between the council and the developers, with Wilson Bowden funding construction on land largely owned by the council.



Macclesfield Borough Council drew up Macclesfield Local Plan. Identified retail as the main function of the town centre and included provision for building more retail space on some of the land now being considered.


Development brief prepared for redevelopment of the town centre.

Brief specified:

‘Retail led mixed-use development to include comparison and convenience shopping offering a range of shop sizes to cater primarily for non-represented multiple retailers, a department store, a cinema, a hotel, offices, residential accommodation including affordable housing, car parking (including short stay), transport improvements, a new town square, improvements to the public realm, and a new Community Hall.’


Wilson Bowden selected as ‘preferred development partners’, following a tender process.


Outline planning application submitted for £200 million scheme.

Key features:

• Debenhams department store – 80,000 square feet at Park Green
• 50 additional retail units of various sizes complementing the existing town
• A new community hall with adjacent parking (to replace one which would be demolished)
• Eight-screen cinema on Churchill Way with restaurants and cafes around a major new public square as a focal point for meeting and eating
• A replacement of the existing car parks providing over 1,200 parking spaces in a multi-storey car park at the Park Green end of the site
• 55 residential properties – town houses and flats, including affordable
• New foodstore at the Park Green end of the site


Macclesfield became part of new local authority, Cheshire East. Cheshire East Council took over responsibility for the project.

Wilson Bowden formally asked the Council for an extension of time before the planning application is determined in order to revise the Masterplan. This was as a result of representations made on the outline planning application by both statutory and non statutory parties and of the impact of the economic climate.

April 2012

Wilson Bowden lodge new planning application for smaller scheme. No hotel, no food store, no community hall, 10 houses not 55 (net gain only 5, as 5 will be demolished), 19 retail units plus department store, cinema, restaurants, multi storey car park.

Anchor tenant still Debenhams

Late 2012

Cheshire East made a gesture in response to local pressure by asking Wilson Bowden to submit revised schemes to address issues relating to appearance and integration with the historic aspects of the town – but not to revise the scale or footprint of the development. New plans were expected to be lodged before Christmas.

January  2013 

New plans lodged 14th Jan. Only changes are related to design, as expected.

June 2013

Cheshire East Council’s Strategic Planning Board vote 9: 3 in favour of the planning application, despite over 3,000 written objections.  Of the 9 councillors who voted in favour, 8 neither live in Macclesfield nor represent Macclesfield wards.  The three who voted against were all Macclesfield councillors.

Macclesfield town centre

Nov 2010 figure –  11% of retail units empty, 58% of units occupied by independent traders.

July 2012  – council revealed there are more than 500 empty commercial properties in total, of which 226 are in the town centre. A number of these are former mills.

Some of these commercial buildings are being considered for retail use, in particular the former Cheshire Building Society building. Planning permission has been granted for this to be incorporated into the adjacent shopping mall, the Grosvenor Centre, creating two or three large retail units. This makes good use of a landmark building and is entirely separate to the council’s Wilson Bowden scheme.

The town centre is centred on the Market Place at the top of the hill. Streets that lead into this include Chestergate, which has a number of hstoric buildings and upmarket shops, probably the majority of which are independent, and Mill Street, where most of the chain stores are situated. A covered shopping mall, the Grosvenor Centre, sits between them. Current town centre national retailers include Tesco, M&S, Boots, Iceland, Waterstones, New Look, Peacocks, River Island, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, and Burton.

The site for the new development is separate from this existing town centre, leading to fears that existing traders will suffer. In addition, the plans involve building on the main surface car parks used by shoppers visiting the town centre and replacing them with a multi-storey. The new car park would be adjacent to the new Debenhams but too far away to be of any use to people needing to do food or other heavy shopping in existing stores.

It is probably fair to say that the town centre has experienced a period of decline. However, things have looked up over the last few years. A number of new stores, cafes and bars have opened, mostly independent. One particular street – Sunderland Street – that was very run down has been reinvigorated and has been described as Macclesfield’s version of Manchester’s Northern Quarter (possibly a slight exaggeration…).  All down to private enterprise, no council involvement. Alongside this we have seen a number of new initiatives that are bringing the town to life. These include:

  • The Barnaby Festival, a not-for-profit ‘arts, culture and fun’ festival launched in June 2009 and going from strength to strength
  • The Treacle Market, a monthly market that now has over 100 stalls covering local food and arts/crafts/antiques (and which was a runner up in the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2012)
  • Winterfest, a series of music and drama events throughout December.
  • The Loominus Festival, an outdoor music festival held in the town centre this year and looking to be bigger and better next year.

Again, all these are the result of private enterprise/community effort, and have not been initiated by the council. All bring large numbers of locals and visitors into the town centre, benefitting local businesses. There are a number of other business initiatives underway.

Cheshire East, Wilson Bowden, and the financial implications

Cheshire East clearly believe there will be a financial benefit to the council, which, like many, is struggling with budgets.  Cheshire East will get an ongoing income from a percentage of the rent paid.  It is also worth noting the impact of the  new business rate arrangements. Councils are now set to retain a proportion of the revenue raised in their area, and empty commercial properties will no longer attract rates relief. This means Cheshire East could benefit even if existing traders are forced out of business – or move into the new units, as some of the chains would do –  leaving empty premises behind them. It would appear therefore there is no financial incentive for the council to be concerned about increases in the number of empty premises or the fate of traders in the traditional town centre.

Set against this, the council would lose the income from the car parks that would be built on.  Projections suggest that the council’s rental receipts from the now-smaller scheme will be less than they currently receive from the car parks.

We understand also that the agreement with Wilson Bowden is such that if either party pulls out, they will have to pay the other a considerable sum of money. We believe the council’s liability in this respect to be £3m.

Cheshire East and the public

Throughout the planning process, Cheshire East  pushed hard for the proposal, yet even their own surveys did not show support for the scheme (despite what council representatives claim). They stepped up publicity as our campaign grew.  masterstrokes included releasing a video that aimed to promote the development by giving a hugely negative view of Macclesfield and wrongly implying that many of the town’s derelict buildings would be part of the scheme. We and local business people asked for the video to be taken down as it was damaging to the town and would certainly put off any potential investors. The council initially refused to remove the video. It finally disappeared when the local paper (the Macclesfield Express) picked up on the story and asked the council for a comment.


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